The scramble for wards

By Editorial Board

Redistricting in Chicago reflects the city’s politics as a whole, which means it’s rarely clean or transparent. Despite losing approximately 200,000 residents in the 2010 Census, African-Americans are trying to hold on to 19 wards. Meanwhile, Latinos, the only major ethnic group whose population grew during the last 10 years, are fighting to attain 14 wards. Chinese residents would prefer that their enclave on the Near South Side not be split up among three wards, thus diluting their voting power. In the midst of this cacophony, Chicago’s Polish population would like to have its own ward on the Northwest Side.

The last majority-Polish ward was eliminated in the 2001 remap, when the 30th Ward became Latino. The Poles still hold the title for largest ethnic group among Chicago’s white population. But unfortunately for them, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 ensures equal representation for African-Americans and Latinos—not subsets of the Caucasian variety.

What is unique about this situation is that Chicago’s Polish community is largely immigrant and maintains its language and strong cultural tradition, which mirrors the Latino argument for seeking representation. Poles on the Northwest Side convened recently at a meeting to voice to Alderman Richard Mell (33rd Ward)—who is in charge of redistricting—their need for a distinct ward. Mell’s response was, “We’ll try.”

This request of the city’s Poles is reasonable. Of 50 wards, there is certainly room for and the population to support a Polish-majority ward that doesn’t get gerrymandered like many others do. However, with so many competing interests to deal with, Mell’s response was also reasonable.

There are plenty of issues with higher priority than creating a Polish ward. African-Americans are clinging to

the wards they currently have, but the census numbers clearly show the need for decreased representation for this community. On the other hand, Latino representation needs to be increased. It would also be nice to see the city’s Chinese community encapsulated into one ward so that it could have its interests heard.

The true lesson here is much deeper than race-based politics. America is the proverbial “melting pot.” When immigrants arrive here, they’re no longer Latino or Polish; they’re also Americans. It’s wonderful that distinct cultures can continue their heritage here, but our best interests truly all lie together. We shouldn’t be thinking of how to divvy up tracts of city land based on ethnicity. Ideally, any representative would listen to his or her constituents and their needs, regardless of race. But in reality, that is a far-off dream. For now, Chicago’s Poles deserve to be represented like any other group.